Stoke City v Manchester United: Van Gaal angry at sack speculation ahead of key clash
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal is under extreme pressure as his team prepare to face Stoke City at the Brtiannia Stadium on Saturday.
The visitors have fallen out of the top four in the Premier League as well as crashing out of the Champions League and League Cup in a run that has seen them win just three times in 13 games.
Without a victory in any of their last six matches in all competitions, it is United’s worst winless run within a single season since December 1998 – the campaign in which they went on to win an historic treble.
United’s poor results have piled the pressure on Van Gaal and prompted speculation linking sacked Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola – who will leave Bayern Munich at the end of the season – with the job at Old Trafford, which has infuriated the Dutchman.
Prior to cutting short his pre-Stoke media conference on Wednesday and insisting he had support of the club hierarchy, Van Gaal said: “I held meetings with the players with my members of staff, I hold a Christmas lunch, I did a speech and I feel the warmth and support of everybody in Carrington.
“But I didn’t feel that in the media. Of course I can imagine that you can write about that subject [our bad results] but you have to stick to the facts.
“Four weeks ago we were first in the Premier League and in about four weeks we could be back in that position.
“I only say now I am focused on Stoke City and that I help my players.”
Van Gaal will hope United can continue their fine record in Boxing Day fixtures, having won 18 and drawn one of their last 19 matches played on December 26.
Stoke’s progress has slowed in recent weeks as they followed a run of five victories from seven league games by only winning one of their last four, although that solitary triumph was an impressive home victory over Manchester City.
Mark Hughes’ men have slipped to 11th in the table, but are only six points adrift of United in fifth.
Stoke’s Marko Arnautovic is the highest league goalscorer from either of the two teams with five and he is optimistic about his side’s chances ahead of United’s visit.
“It is a huge game,” the forward told the Stoke Sentinel.
“I think they come to us and know it is going to be a difficult game in Stoke and we know they are a good side.
“Manchester United is always a top game and we will try and win this game.
“If we perform like the last week [against West Ham and Crystal Palace], but score the goals, then I think we can take the three points.”
Bastian Schweinsteiger is suspended, while United are also without Matteo Darmian and Jesse Lingard (both hamstring), though Van Gaal is hoping the Italy defender will be back to face Chelsea on December 28.
Stoke are still without Geoff Cameron (hamstring), Peter Crouch (groin) and Stephen Ireland (hamstring).
Key Opta stats:
– Stoke City have won just one of their 14 Premier League matches against Manchester United (W1 D2 L11), but have lost just one of the last four at home (W1 D2 L1).
– The Potters have never kept a clean sheet against Man Utd in the Premier League.
– Wayne Rooney has scored on Boxing Day in the last two years (two goals v Newcastle in 2014, one goal v Hull in 2013).
– Rooney has scored only two goals in 1140 minutes of Premier League action this season and his minutes per goal ratio (one every 570) is more than double that of any of his previous 13 Premier League seasons as a player.
– United have averaged just 1.29 goals per game in the league this season; their lowest average since 1989-90 (1.21).
– As a manager, Mark Hughes was unbeaten in his first three Premier League games against Man Utd (W2 D1) but has won just one of his 14 meetings with them since (W1 D3 L10).